Quotes are awesome things
Someone famous assembles a coherent and meaningful combination of words and it lives on forever. In books, etched in stone, scripted on walls, scrolling on the screen, both silver and hand-held. If they’re really good – kinda – they’ll become a meme.
Quotes become hallmarks of our time:
“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation…”
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
I’ve seen these words all over the place, especially in my mind’s eye when I ponder the past. My daughter, I’m sure, will do the same thing: understand a moment in time, the beginning of a new era, by the words that summed it all up.
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Unlike so many horrible things that come out of our president’s mouth, I fear this is going to end up being true. (Only time will tell. Though it’s entirely possible that by 2018 Trump will deny having said it at all – in which case you know it’s true.)
We live in a time where it’s completely acceptable to vote for an all-but admitted child molester because “we don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat.” And, yes, while that’s from the same horrible person that says many horrible things these days, many national Republicans clearly seem to agree.
For example: “I am a realist who recognizes that we get two viable choices, and Republicans are members of the only party positioned to pump the brakes on Democrats’ gleeful race toward dystopia.”
OK, I made that up. A Republican didn’t actually say that. A Democrat did; all you have to do is flip the political parties and make it “Atwoodian dystopia.” The writer didn’t say what would happen if Al Franken fired a gun down Fifth Avenue, but I’m presuming that would be fine, too.
Honestly, I don’t think most of us in today’s political climate think any different. In the end, we’ll vote for anyone that we think will stand against the people we loathe on the other side of the aisle. They may be a nightmare, but at least they’re ours.
Bill Clinton in 1992 and ‘96, Trump in ‘16: You hear those names and dates a lot as punch and counterpunch on the political talk circuit. What I see them as, however, are part of a trendline. Trump merely the latest point on a straight trajectory that goes back through John F. Kennedy in ‘60, Franklin Delano Roosevelt a quarter-century earlier, and so on.
The difference, of course, is that the blemishes on today’s politicians’ records are publicly acknowledged as people go to the voting booth. Give someone an iPod and they can literally hear a presidential candidate relishing in grabbing “pussy” as they go to vote for them.
It took nearly 130 years for George Washington’s extra-marital affections to be known. Even the “discreet” rumors of Kennedy and Roosevelt’s day allowed people some cognitive dissonance, to pretend that wasn’t “really” the man they were voting for.
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Clinton was perhaps the last of these “nod-and-wink” candidates, though he probably shouldn’t have been. Perhaps if Democrats had been willing to reckon with the truth then they could have disrupted the inevitable trendline that led to Trump and Roy Moore.
In Martin Luther King’s “The Other America” speech in 1968, he identified this progression as something else: logical. Granted, he was speaking about racism, but the lesson’s the same, as he spoke of Adolf Hitler’s intolerance. “He took his racism to its logical conclusion. The minute his racism caused him to sickly feel and go about saying that there was something innately inferior about the Jew he ended up killing six million Jews.”
He understood that when a group of people is not good enough to merit equality in jobs, housing, marriage, ultimately it must be concluded they are “not fit to exist or to live. And that… the ultimate logic of racism is genocide.”
The lesson of Clinton and Trump and Moore is certainly different from Dr. King’s; for one thing, this time the ultimate logic ends with tolerance. Tolerance of nearly anything, as long as that person supports your views, even if you’d never allow them near your daughter. And admittedly, shamefully, I don’t think members of either party calculate things differently.
In the days before the 2016 election, I wondered aloud what I would do at the ballot box if the circumstances were reversed. What if the Democratic nominee was unhinged and dangerous? Would I still support them? I reckoned I would; the Supreme Court and so many other things were in the balance.
In the months after the inauguration I also pondered what would happen if the president really were impeached. Would I really prefer a President Pence? God, no. He’s probably intelligent enough to accomplish what Trump’s arrogant ignorance keeps thwarting.
Charlottesville made me rethink that. A white-supremacist in the White House had to go, no matter what the potential cost to my personal causes at the hands of Mike “Pray-it-Away” Pence. But now, I’ll admit, I’ve probably gone the other way again. An idiot as hater-in-chief is less damaging to me personally than a competent one.
And so it goes.
Obviously not everyone is so selfishly motivated in the voting booth; enough Democrats bailed on Hillary Clinton that she lost the White House. But that to me isn’t a lesson in democracy and ideals; it’s a lesson in cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Where, then, does the trendline end? Do our elections simply become anyone, no matter how flawed? That as a candidate one can without fear do anything, no matter how heinous, because they know it doesn’t matter? I’d like to say it won’t.
But unless Roy Moore loses in Alabama, logic suggests nothing else is possible. Someday, only murder may be disqualifying, though that would likely hinge less on morality and more on being unable to run for office while incarcerated. But then again, maybe not; there are quotes yet to be written.
“I stood in the middle of 5th Avenue and shot somebody – and I still didn’t lose his vote.” Facetious, perhaps; but I fear this is the nightmare coming for my daughter when she closes her eyes and ponders the hallmarks of the world she inherited. Even worse: what I’ll have to say when she opens her eyes and asks me how I let it happen.
“At least he was my nightmare.”